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Bemidji State’s Sam Rendle, left, skates with the puck as Minnesota’s Sam Warning pursues him during last Friday’s game at the Sanford Center. The Beavers travel to Minneapolis this weekend for a first-round Western Collegiate Hockey Association playoff matchup with the Gophers at Mariucci Arena. BSU Photo Services

MEN'S HOCKEY: Beavers hit ‘reset button’ on season: BSU travels to Minnesota for first round series

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BEMIDJI – If real life were a video game, the Bemidji State men’s hockey team likely would have hit the reset button on the 2012-13 season a few months ago. The Beavers spend much of 2013 struggling to get points and only won one game after the New Year.

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Instead, BSU gets an automatic reset button with the start of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association playoffs.

The Beavers (6-20-8, 5-16-7 WCHA) are traveling to Minneapolis to take on second-ranked Minnesota for their best-of-three playoff series, which begins today at 7:07 p.m. at Mariucci Arena.

Although the Gophers (27-4-5, 16-7-5 WCHA) swept the Beavers just last week at the Sanford Center in the final regular season series, BSU head coach Tom Serratore is a firm believer that everything changes in the playoffs. Everyone gets a chance to start over.

“You kind of try and wipe the slate clean, and try and just get prepared for the weekend in the playoffs,” Serratore said. “It’s a different taste in your mouth, a different feel of the playoffs.

“We know who we’re playing and we know the difficulty of playing Minnesota. But you always have that hope. You always believe in the playoffs. It’s a new life for people.”

As Minnesota head coach Don Lucia noted, any time there’s a chance that someone’s season could be over, the intensity level picks up.

“You talk to the coaches around the league, there’s nobody you want to play,” Lucia said. “It’s always hard to end somebody’s season.

“You get a feel for the type of game it’s going to be. Everyone starts 0-0-0. New stats, new record. Let’s see how we do.”

Last weekend in Bemidji, the Gophers exploited their strong power play to overcome BSU’s feisty forechecking on in their 4-3 win on Friday before overpowering the Beavers Saturday in a 5-1 win.

The gameplan for the Beavers won’t change much this weekend, but Serratore said they’ll have to tweak some things by necessity – Minnesota plays on big Olympic-sized ice.

“We’re working on our penalty kill,” Serratore said. Last weekend the Gophers scored twice on the power play. “They trapped a lot last weekend, which is unlike them.

“It’ll be interesting to see how we kill on the big ice. When they trap, how are they going to trap? There’s 15 more feet of width to work with. We’re trying to prepare a little bit for the big ice, but it’s hard until you actually get out there.”

“We’re just going to have to be on our game,” added sophomore defenseman Matt Prapavessis, who scored two goals against the Gophers last weekend. “I think it’s going to be more dependent on what we do. It’s a different animal on the big ice, but we have to be smart.”

Prapavessis and freshman Cory Ward were responsible for all four BSU goals last weekend. Ward played on the third line with Radoslav Illo and Danny Mattson, while Prapavessis was paired with Graeme McCormack on the blue line.

Serratore and senior captain Ben Kinne said getting the top two lines heating up on offense will be important against the high-octane Gophers.

“Any time you can get balanced scoring throughout your team, it’s a good thing,” Kinne said. “Rado, Danny and Cory all stepped up this past weekend. That was great to see.

“Now it’s all about putting pieces together, especially this time of year. It’s crucial for us to all get going, not just one or two guys.”

“We have to score goals,” Serratore added. “We need offense. For us to beat Minnesota, we have to for sure get to three (goals). We need our top lines going, need our power play clicking and we need to get some power play opportunities.”

BSU seniors want to go out on high note

Last weekend’s senior night festivities didn’t quite go as planned for the Beavers.

But the nine-strong senior class – one of the largest at BSU in years – can erase that final sweep to the Gophers from their memories with a trip to the Final Five. The Beavers have won one game at Mariucci – a 6-2 victory on Jan. 15, 2009. Kinne was the only senior who was on the team then, but the Beavers played in Minneapolis twice last year, so they have some experience playing against the hostile home fans of their instate rivals.

“This group has played there quite a bit actually,” said Kinne, a St. Paul native. “It’ll be a fun series. Their fanbase is obviously huge and it’s always a big crowd down there. Hopefully we can do something in front of their home crowd.”

Other Beavers playing in what could be their final series include forwards David Boehm Jordan George, Aaron McLeod and Brance Orban; defensemen Brady Wacker, Jake Areshenko and Matt Carlson; and goaltender Mathieu Dugas.

“It’s the biggest senior class we’ve had for a while,” Dugas said. “Playing with these nine guys, it’s been a blast. We went through a lot of stuff.”

Serratore credits this senior class with doing a lot for the program. As freshman they made the NCAA tournament as an at-large bid. The next year, they made the Final Five in their first year in the WCHA. Last season they were a point out of contention for playoff home ice.

“It’s been a tough year for these guys,” he said of his senior class. “Obviously we didn’t know that it would be this much of a struggle in the second half, but they’ve led, they’ve stood tall, they’ve worked hard.

“Just take a look at what they’ve accomplished over the course of their careers… they should be proud of themselves. It’s going to be tough to see them leave.”

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Jack Hittinger
Jack Hittinger is a sports reporter for the Bemidji Pioneer, focusing on Bemidji State but also covering area high schools. He hails from the Great State of Michigan. Read his Bemidji State blog at http://thebeaverblog.areavoices.com/ and follow him on Twitter at @Jackhitts.
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